Friday, January 8, 2016

Henry Wade's No Friendly Drop

Sir Henry Lancelot
Sir Henry Lancelot Aubrey-Fletcher, 6th Baronet (1887-1969) wrote twenty detective novels under the name Henry Wade between 1926 and 1957. No Friendly Drop, published in 1931, was the third of his seven Inspector Poole mysteries,

Wade is one of the best, and certainly one of the most underrated, of the writers of golden age detective fiction. At times (as in Heir Presumptive) he could be quite ambitious. No Friendly Drop adheres very closely to the established conventions of the genre but it is an assured and extremely successful mystery.

Lord Grayle has died very suddenly at his country home. His health was poor but his condition was not life-threatening. The assumption is that he succumbed to an overdose of  a sedative. Superintendent Clewth is not happy about the circumstances and the Chief Constable, Major Faide, is reluctantly inclined to agree. Given that Lord Grayle belongs to one of the most prominent families in the county Major Faide knows that he will have to tread carefully. It seems to him that it really would be better to call in Scotland Yard right away. 

Detective Inspector Poole is assigned to the case. Technically he is too junior an officer for such an important case but the chief of the CID has the feeling that, of the officers available to him, Poole might just turn out to be the right man for the job.

It soon becomes clear that Lord Grayle was poisoned, but he was poisoned in a rather strange manner. So strange that it is difficult to imagine why any murderer would choose such a complicated and potentially unreliable method of murder. There is a very strong suspect but despite compelling, indeed overwhelming, circumstantial evidence the suspect in question appears to have no motive whatsoever. There is another possible suspect, but one with even less motive. The only suspects with any plausible motives at all are entirely ruled out for other reasons.

The plot includes most of the features one expects in a golden age mystery - murder in a country house, a complicated murder method, a surprising will, a limited pool of suspects, family secrets, a hint of scandal, exotic poisons, murder disguised as suicide or accident. The ingredients are familiar but Wade blends them into a most enticing dish.

While the plot is complex it avoids the outrageous elements that one finds in many detective tales of this era. Once the solution is revealed we are bound to admit that it is entirely plausible and credible.

Inspector Poole is an interesting detective. He’s much younger than most fictional detectives, and very young indeed to be an official police detective in charge of a murder case. He is also unusual among official police detective heroes in being university-educated. Poole is a very ambitious young man who intends to rise high in the Metropolitan Police. He has had his career carefully planned out. Rather than entering the Force straight away he spent several years studying and then practising law, feeling that this would be a more useful apprenticeship for a future head of the CID (for that is his ambition) than pounding a beat. Having then entered the Force he became the protégé of the Assistant Commissioner and began a rapid rise through the ranks.

Despite his lofty ambitions Poole is a likeable hero, notably lacking in arrogance (although not lacking in self-confidence). He is also very much a young man, with the enthusiasm and the sensitivity of youth. He has not yet become hardened and he very much dislikes thinking about the fact that his investigations could send someone to the gallows.

Wade demonstrates his ability to make his supporting characters something more than mere marionettes. Some behave badly but they are not mere stock villains. They do have comprehensible motivations. Their actions are, in general, believable.

No Friendly Drop is a thoroughly entertaining intelligent and completely plausible detective story. Highly recommended.


  1. Your description of Poole's background, personality, and ambitions sounds suspiciously like those of another copper named Morse. Do you think there was some "borrowing" - let's be charitable and add "unconscious" - on Colin Dexter's part?

    1. I have to be honest and admit I haven't read Colin Dexter so I only know Morse from the TV series (the old TV series not the more recent one).

  2. Yes, I was thinking of the young Endeavour Morse from the prequel series. Not much was made of Morse's history in either the books I've read or the old series, so perhaps the "unconscious borrowing" could have been on the part of the producers of ENDEAVOUR rather than Colin Dexter.

    Of the few Morse novels that I've read, none really impressed me. I think Dexter's value has been in keeping the whodunit in the public's consciousness as the whole field moved away from the traditional mystery towards serial torture murders and junk like that.

    1. Dexter's been on my list of Writers I Should Try for a while.

      Anything that keeps the traditional mystery alive is a good thing. I wonder though if it's really possible to write truly excellent traditional mysteries these days.